It started off a little rough, but I’ve got to say – once I got a little further into Virilio’s Open Sky I really started to enjoy it. Part III was by far the most interesting part of the book for me as, coming from a more filmic perspective, I found the chapter entitled “Eye Lust” particularly relatable.
Virilio suggests the decline of the film industry is solely due to the “beginnings of a true ‘mechanization of perception’, whereby the intrusion of optoelectronic devices right inside the nervous system partly explains the abandonment of projection rooms which have also become smaller and smaller” (95). Virilio goes on to say, “It is in fact the dawn of an ‘infographic illusionism’ that will, if we are not careful, wind up once again undermining the status of appearances, the reality principle of our immediate representations” (95). Virilio explains that it is not a deterioration of ‘cinematic obscurantism’ (cinematic originality and intrigue) that is to blame for the decrease in the popularity of movie theaters but rather the “prevailing rapid transport and transmission technologies [that] have managed to mobilize our field of perception non-stop” (96). In today’s world we are, regardless of where we are or what we are doing, frequently surrounded by an inundation of visual stimuli, and Virilio asks whether or not we are truly free to ‘look away’ and thus relieve ourselves of the influences of these stimuli.
Virilio states, “Are we free, truly free, to choose what we see? Clearly not. On the other hand, are we obliged, absolutely forced against our will to perceive what is first merely suggested then imposed on everyone’s gaze? Not at all!” This reminded me of something filmmaker John Waters said in his commentary on Frank Yablan’s Mommi Dearest regarding the viewer’s ‘choice in perception’. Waters states that, while a filmmaker can create a shot in such a way that a viewer is drawn to a specific area or subject within that shot, the viewer’s perception cannot truly be controlled. Waters himself, when viewing a particularly boring movie, says he will start concentrating on say lampshades or elbows instead of on that which he is “supposed to,” making these objects (if only for him) the stars of the film.
Theater scene in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie
Virilio quotes Kafka, stating, “Cinema means pulling a uniform over our eyes” (91), in that film and film genres can be reduced to certain codes and conventions that work to manipulate our perceptions. Virilio goes on to say that if this is true for cinema, than television (and, in today’s world, digital communications) “means pulling on a straitjacket, stepping up an eye training regime that leads to eye disease, just as the acoustic intensity of the walkman ends in irreversible lesions in the inner ear” (97).
“Will the acceleration of representations cause us to lose their depth of field and so impoverish our sight?”